One of the easiest hike and best view of Yosemite is Taft Point and Sentinel Dome. Each are 2 miles round trip, 1-2 hours each to complete, with parking lot right off Glacier Point road. Kids as young as 5 years old and senior in their early 70’s should be able to do these hikes. Of course you can just drive to Glacier point for a great view of the Valley and Half Dome without having to Hike. However, hiking is a great way to enjoy Yosemite, and for those who don’t want to walk too far for awesome views, Taft & Fissure and Sentinel Dome are great options. At Taft Point, you will be testing whether you are afraid of height as you will be looking down the valley with no steel railing holding you back (you will peek down lying on your stomach). At Sentinel Dome, you will get a 360 degrees unobstructed view of all of Yosemite; a perfect spot for your video camera.
Taft Point (Testing if you are afraid of heights)
We started our Hike at around 8am in the morning from the parking lot off Glacier Point road, just about 3-4 miles away from Glacier Point. From the parking lot, left will take you to Taft Point, right will take you to Sentinel Dome. We chose to do Taft Point first. At 8am in summer, the morning was still quite chilly (50F) up at this 8000 ft altitude. One should probably wear layers so that it can be peeled off as needed.
The beginning of the hike is pretty much flat and immediately we were greeted with a fox just about ¼ of a mile into the Hikes. Early morning hikes are much cooler, the forests are much prettier, and animals are often spot at this time. About half way through, you will find a small beautiful meadow with some nice flowers. This meadow makes for a perfect photo moment as the morning light peak through trees and shine softly on the green grass. The second part of the hike is all slightly down hill.
Once arrived, you will find a granite plateau that has many cracks and fissure throughout. The cracks leads to thousands of feet drop that sure to attract some crazy long jumper trying to proof something. The whole plateau (except for one tourist point) has no metal railing, so you can walk up and look straight 4000 ft down. Note that many have fallen to their death here, so if you don’t feel comfortable, don’t risk your life trying to show off photo on facebook. We lied on our stomach on our first peek down the cliff, and then slowly we got comfortable enough to sit near the edge and eventually stand. It wasn’t too bad standing on the edge, but the minute we looked down, the legs started shaking.
Taft point is where the railing is and tourist can go right on the edge and look down. The area is a great spots during sunset. It offers a great view of the Yosemite Valley and El Capitan.
Sentinel Dome (360 Degrees View of Yosemite)
Hiking to the top of Sentinel Dome is Yosemite’s easiest way to experience views in whatever direction you care to turn. Looking west, you’ll see down Yosemite. To the north you’ll see Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan and Yosemite Fall. To the east, you’ll see Nevada Fall, Half Dome and Clouds Rest. To the South, you will see the rest of Yosemite mountain ranges.
On the way back to the parking lot from Taft Point, you will face with 2 options; taking a 2 miles path straight to Sentinel Dome or return back to the parking lot first and take a 1 mile hike to Sentinel Dome. Take the later one and return to the parking lot first as it will save you close to 30 mins of time!
The walk to Sentinel Dome isn’t quite as pretty as Taft Point, but you will be greeted with a mini version of the view from the top of Half Dome. It is really nothing in term of difficulty and anybody can do, but you do have to walk on a slightly inclined granite dome to get to its top. The top of Sentinel Dome is the best view of Yosemite as it is an unobstructed 360 view of all of the park and its valley. The view is similar to, but actually better than that from the top of Half Dome. Half dome is great to look at, but if you are on top of it, the view around you is missing a big part of Yosemite and doesn’t have too much attraction. From the top of Sentinel, you can see Half Dome and everything else. Plus, you don’t have to actually do the 12 hours Hike up Half Dome to get an inferior view. Bring your video camera so you can capture the 360 view.
On top of Sentinel Dome is one of the world most famous dead tree, the fallen Jeffrey Pine. The tree appeared in the 1940 Ansel Adams photo and became a star. The tree died in 1977 and finally fell over in 2003. As an alternative to Granite Point (which can be crowded), Sentinel Dome is also a great spot for sunset photo.
Video of the View from Taft Point and Sentinel Dome Below